The year is ending in a similar way to how it began in Federal Way. The city is continuing to struggle with how to deal with the homelessness issue.
So to help reduce the amount of homeless mothers and children in the city, Mayor Jim Ferrell is working with the city to join Mary’s Place, a nonprofit organization that helps provide shelter options to people who are struggling to find a roof to stay under. However, the location the city hopes to partner with is in Burien — about 15 miles outside of Federal Way.
Local legislators are now questioning why the city is aiming to allocate the $100,000 that lawmakers secured from a state grant to house the city’s homeless in Burien. And a local nonprofit is concerned about why the city did not approach most of the local human services providers to consider them about providing shelter for homeless mothers in children right here in Federal Way.
An issue arising from this is that the intent for this money from the state Legislature’s perspective was for Federal Way to construct homeless shelters inside the city, not provide housing outside of it.
The Department of Commerce granted the money to the city in May, with stipulations that the money be used before the end of the 2019 fiscal year on June 30. The contract between the DoC and the city also states the emergency shelter must specifically be for homeless women with children “in Federal Way.”
Kristine Reeves, one of the 30th District representatives, is concerned about the city accepting money and then moving it outside the city.
“It’s causing me to reconsider advocating for state funds to the city of Federal Way,” she said.
Reeves said the city provided its own written statement that they would use the money to build emergency homeless shelters in Federal Way.
The 2018 Legislative Priorities the city gave to the state Legislature reads as follows: “$100,000 grant toward establishing an emergency shelter for homeless families with children in Federal Way, in support of our Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative.”
The priorities the city provided to the Legislature for 2019 reads in part, “$100,000 to provide sheltering for homeless families with children in Federal Way.”
Both Reps. Reeves and Mike Pellicciotti said the legislative intent for the money when it was granted was for emergency shelter within the city.
“When the City Council presented this funding request as a legislative priority … my understanding was that the funds were being requested to provide shelter services in Federal Way,” Pellicciotti said.
Reeves said that if the mayor had picked up the phone and called when they were having the issue of finding shelter in Federal Way, this would not have turned into the problem it is now.
However, Ferrell said the city did not reach out to the Legislature because “that’s not how we do business.”
He also said the city’s intent was for the money to serve homeless mothers and children from Federal Way.
Pellicciotti said he wanted to ensure the money went towards homeless from Federal Way exclusively, so that’s why he wrote into the budget language that the funds could only serve women and children from the city.
Ferrell first announced the city potentially entering into a contract with Mary’s Place in November, almost six months after the money was allocated to the city.
Ferrell did say ideally the shelter would be in the city, however he did not think it was required to be within city limits.
“In a perfect world I would love homeless families with children be served in Federal Way.” He said, “But we don’t live in a perfect world.”
An information packet for a Parks, Recreation, Human Services & Public Safety Committee meeting on Dec. 11 reads in part, “Community Services Staff met with the Mayor’s Office in early June 2018 and summarized the foregoing issues and recommended the grant funding be provided to Mary’s Place to serve Federal Way homeless families with children in the new Burien shelter.”
Jeff Watson, Community (Human) Services manager, said finding an agency that was already equipped to provide services and use the money effectively was important when identifying potential candidates to provide emergency housing.
Ferrell then concurred with his staff’s recommendation and directed them to begin working with Mary’s Place, according to the packet.
The Mirror recently sat down with Ferrell and communications staff person Tyler Hemstreet as well as Watson and Sarah Bridgeford from the Community Services Department to discuss this money as well as the city’s process of choosing Mary’s Place to construct emergency shelter for homeless women with children.
Watson said Community Services only looked at two organizations to potentially house homeless women and children: New Hope Christian Fellowship in Federal Way and Mary’s Place Seattle.
Ferrell said that Mary’s Place had been looking for a location in Federal Way to set up a shelter but was unable to find a proper space, making Burien the closest available emergency shelter for women with children. This was the best option because it was important to provide assistance to homeless mothers and children as soon as possible, he said.
According to both Watson and Ferrell, however, the city did not approach any of the other organizations in the city that work with homeless people, specifically homeless mother and children, including FUSION.
FUSION works exclusively with homeless families with young children. It’s mission is to provide housing and support services to the homeless in Federal Way “so they will have a safe, secure environment as they work toward self-sufficiency,” according to the nonprofit’s website.
And since FUSION had been appointed to the mayor’s homelessness task force, Peggy LaPorte and Byron Hiller, the leadership for FUSION, have been thinking about an idea to bring a 22-family emergency shelter specifically for homeless families with children to the city, LaPorte said.
This project, which would be on Light of Christ property, has not begun construction yet, as Light of Christ is getting ready to submit a pre-application for the permits and zoning, Hiller said.
However, it is one both Hiller and LaPorte are very excited about, and they believe it will be a great help to the many homeless families with children in the city if it is approved.
Earlier this month, FUSION and Light of Christ were awarded $3 million toward this project by King County, with the state agreeing to match the funds for the project, LaPorte said.
LaPorte said both she and Hiller sat down with Ferrell sometime in May or June to discuss this project, and were met with support and excitement from Ferrell.
During a Dec. 17 interview with the Mirror, however, Ferrell claimed he had no prior knowledge of FUSION being interested in working with emergency shelters.
“My understanding is FUSION does not do emergency shelter.” He said, “FUSION does transitional housing.”
He said he was confused why LaPorte was asking why the city did not approach FUSION about the possibility they could provide emergency shelter.
“I first got asked that question at the Chamber quarterly meeting last Tuesday,” Ferrell said. “I was surprised to hear [LaPorte] ask that, because that’s not what they do.”
Ferrell added he was very supportive of the work FUSION does in the community.
“I can’t say enough nice things about FUSION,” he said.
However, both Hiller and LaPorte were surprised that Ferrell said he had no idea Light of Christ and FUSION were moving into building emergency shelters for the homeless.
“That is absolutely not true,” Hiller said in response.
LaPorte said that she has kept in touch with Human Services and Ferrell about the project’s progress, and from her perspective has received nothing but support.
The Mirror sat down with Ferrell and his staff again on Dec. 19 to provide him the opportunity to respond to LaPorte and Hiller’s comments.
When asked when he was first told about FUSION’s project to build an emergency homeless shelter in the city for homeless mothers with children, Ferrell said he had sat down with the organization to discuss the Light of Christ project earlier this year, but never thought to ask FUSION about their potential to provide emergency shelter because this project was not going to be completed in the near future.
Ferrell did not answer why he had originally said he did not know FUSION was interested in providing emergency housing.
He said he found the leadership of FUSION to be disappointing and concerning by asking for the grant funding, as the homeless need help today and FUSION has not received any money from the Legislature yet for their project.
“I am so disturbed that FUSION is attempting to bootstrap and potentially take these dollars that are going to homeless mothers and children now for a project that cannot be completed for a few years,” Ferrell said.
The Mirror also reached out to LaPorte Dec. 19 to give her a chance to respond to Ferrell’s comments.
LaPorte was shocked to hear the mayor say this about FUSION.
“I have never asked for this money,” she said.
LaPorte and Hiller both said they had earlier expressed an interest in potentially using the funds to put forward their formal application for permitting for the project, which would potentially allow them to begin construction sooner. However, LaPorte did not ask for the money to be given to FUSION, and she does not want to direct the money away from Mary’s Place, she said.
“I don’t understand why he is saying this,” she said.
In a statement, LaPorte said on behalf of FUSION “All we have ever wanted to do was to help homeless families in the Federal Way community to transition into a more stable environment. Funding was obtained through the hard efforts of King County Representative Pete von Reichbauer and our State Representatives and offered to the LOC/FUSION project because of our reputation for efficient use of public and private funds. We have no desire to be involved in politics or politically related accusations.”
Penny Thomas, media relations manager for the DoC, said this funding could potentially be used for permitting costs, as this money normally comes from capital funds. According to the contract between the DoC and Federal Way, an allowable expense would include “Costs for securing permanent housing including: applications fees, background check fees, credit check fees, utility deposits.”
The contract also states the grant funding can only be used for eligible activities and expenses described in the Consolidated Homeless Grant Program Guidelines.
A DoC representative also stated that while the funds did need to be allocated by the end of the fiscal year, there was nothing written to suggest the funding would be required to go to a program that could provide immediate assistance in the contract wording, which is as follows: “$100,000 of the general fund-state appropriation for fiscal year 2019 is provided solely for a grant to the city of Federal Way for an emergency shelter to serve homeless families with children.”
Watson said it was, however, the expectation that the funding would go towards services that were available immediately.
“When the legislative agenda was submitted as well as both our reading of the legislative budget and language that is in there, combined with the fact that commerce is working to put the contract in place and wanting to begin to spend the funds as soon as possible, [this] is about being expeditious and efficient in spending the money.” Watson said, “So it really is about using the money quickly, but also using that money in a way that provides the intended purpose, which is providing shelter for homeless families with children from Federal Way.”
Both Ferrell and Watson said the city communicated with the DoC about funding options and potentially contracting with Mary’s Place for shelter outside the city.
“Community Services Staff began conversations and negotiations with Mary’s Place and informed Commerce about the City’s plans. Commerce supported the choice of Mary’s Place and use of the funds to serve Federal Way residents in a shelter outside the City,” according to the packet.
Linda Mitchell, a representative of Mary’s Place, said they are waiting to hear back about the contract the city may enter into with them, but the organization has been offering assistance to homeless families, including those from Federal Way, since they opened the Burien shelter in August. The council is set to vote on the potential contract with Mary’s Place during the Jan. 2 meeting.